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The deadliest art of the Orient is now in the hands of an American. Sure, Michael Dudikoff had been in a few movies before this one (hey, how can you not remember him from his brilliant turn in Bloody Birthday?) but it was American Ninja that made him the household name of eighties action heroes. Truly, it was American Ninja that made us all love and respect him.
For the uninitiated, American Ninja is the story of Joe (a role originally developed for Chuck Norris). He's a brooding and somber G.I. stationed somewhere in the South Pacific, where he soon heads off as part of a convoy tasked with escorting Colonel Hickock (Guich Kook) and his daughter, Patricia (Judie Aronson). Once they move off the base, some ninjas and guerilla fighters attack them in hopes of stealing the weapons that are stashed on the convoy. The Colonel has his men put up no fight and as he doesn't want any trouble. That changes when one of the guerillas takes advantage of his generosity and decides he ought to put the moves on Patricia. Joe is definitely not cool with this action, so he grabs himself a tire iron and a screwdriver and starts kicking ass, ninja style.
It turns out that the ninjas are part of a larger terrorist group run by a French arms dealer named Ortega (Don Stewart). He has recently been pillaging the convoys that have been running through the area for stock in his illegal weapons trade operation. Ortega is an interesting man, with his phony French accent and on-site ninja training area, always full of ninjas whooping it up in different colored ninja suits at any given moment. In addition to Ortega, there's a mysterious and sinister Black Star Ninja (Tadashi Yamashita) running around who seems to have it in for Joe. It appears that Joe, who can't remember his past, may pose as some sort of threat to the Black Star Ninja, and it's probably best for ol' Black Star to just make sure Joe isn't around to interfere in any of his evil plans.
Joe's not alone in his fight against evil ninjas though. Lucky for him, Curtis Jackson (played with amazing enthusiasm by Steve James) is on the scene and more than happy to help Joe in his battle. They become fast friends after Joe beats the crap out of him with a bucket on his head. Maybe Joe had to teach Curtis that he was the real deal or something. This is Curtis' own fault though. He had the gall to start the right in the first place when he called Joe ‘bad ass Karate boy' in a really mocking tone. Anyway, they're friends, and it's up to them to save the world. So we've got a rather rotund Black Star Ninja running around and we've got Ortega and his cache of illegal weapons and an army of ninjas. Looks like the free world is in pretty rough shape, right? Right. So Joe puts on his ninja suit and Curtis dresses up like Rambo and they head off to kill what has to be about four hundred ninjas and save the day.
Sure, American Ninja may seem a little convoluted in the plot department, and in many ways, it is, but it's unintentional hilarity and non-stop ninja action make it one of the ultimate Cannon Films eighties actioners. Dudikoff can't act his way out of a paper bag but that doesn't stop the man from trying his damnedest. If he's flat, at least he's consistently flat and the guy has some pretty solid moves. He's calm, he's cool and he's collected and the former male model does look good strutting about here. Dudikoff's lack of range is more than compensated for by Steve James, who overacts enough to more than make up for. Together, these guys are really likeable. The supporting cast? Meh, they're fine. Judie Aronson is pretty enough to be crush-worthy and the mighty Guich Koock is fun as the Colonel. Don Stewart never succeeds in convincing us of his character's heritage but he's fun to watch as the bad guy. And Tadashi Yamashita as the Black Star Ninja? He's just plain awesome.
Director Sam Firstenberg wisely keeps the action moving at a brisk enough pace that we never bother to stop and think too much about what's actually going on. As such, the logic gaps, questionable acting and such hardly matter. The action scenes are pretty solid, highlighted by some pretty top notch fight choreography and, yes, plenty of guys decked out in ninja suits trolling about causing trouble. The movie might not be particularly deep but it is a lot of fun. It was successful enough to spawn four sequels.The Blu-ray:
American Ninja arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer from in the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85.1. Colors are reproduced quite well here and they look consistently natural, as do skin tones. Some shots are a little softer than others but that would appear to be how the movie was shot and the vast majority of the movie is pretty tight looking. Detail is solid and a nice step up from past DVD editions, while the image is remarkably clean from start to finish. You'll notice film grain, as you should, but no serious print damage, whatever elements were used were obviously in good shape. Black levels are pretty solid here and there are no problems at all with any edge enhancement or noise reduction. No complaints here!.Sound:
The only audio option for the feature is an English language track presented in DTS-HD 2.0 lossless format. There are no alternate language options, although English subtitles are provided. There are no issues here, this track is just fine. Balance is good, depth and range are solid and the dialogue and score both sound quite nice. No issues with any hiss or distortion to note.Extras:
Extras on this disc start off with a commentary track from director Sam Firstenberg moderated by Elijah Drenner. This is a pretty engaging track as Firstenberg talks about how he would come to direct this picture, his thoughts on working with James and Dudikoff as well as some of the other cast members, what it was like shooting the film in the Philippines and of course, the action scenes in the film. Firstenberg has a good memory here, sharing some stories about working for Cannon Films, casting the film, his thoughts on the original storyline and quite a bit more.
The disc also includes a featurette entitled Rumble In The Jungle: The Making Of American Ninja. This twenty-three minute piece is made up mostly of interviews with Firstenberg, Dudikoff, Judie Aronson, stunt coordinator Steve Lambert and Paul De Mielche. This is a pretty interesting piece that covers the making of the film starting with how Firstenberg came to director for Cannon Films, his relationship with producers Golan and Globus, the locations, the fight sequences and more. There's also some talk here about what the late, great Steve James brought to the table, the success of the film and its ongoing popularity.
Outside of that we get a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
American Ninja isn't deep, but it sure is fun. The action is plentiful and well stage and Dudikoff and James are a lot of fun to watch in the lead roles. Olive Films has done right by the film, presenting it in very nice shape with good quality lossless audio and some great extra features. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.